"Our life together is so precious together." -- from (Just Like) Starting Over, by John Lennon
Every generation has its couples who mesmerize the public. In the late 1960s, none felt the worldwide glare of the press more than Beatle John Lennon and then-girlfriend Yoko Ono. The two met in London in November 1966, at an Ono performance-art exhibition. Many blamed Ono for the breakup of the Beatles, which became official with the group's last public appearance in January 1969. But John and Yoko's story, like most romances, is more complicated than it seems.
In the summer of 1968, John and Yoko moved in together, in Ringo Starr's London flat. October 18 that same year, the couple was arrested and charged with marijuana possession. Lennon claimed the drugs were planted by the police, but subsequently pled guilty to the charges on November 1, 1968.
That petty conviction that would haunt him for years. A week later, his divorce from first wife Cynthia Lennon was granted. Three days after that, John and Yoko's first album collaboration, "Two Virgins," was released. The cover showed nude photos of the lovers front and back, and was banned.
On March 20, 1969, the couple wed in Gibraltar. The following week, the two master media manipulators used their celebrity for good, hosting a honeymoon "bed-in" for peace in room 902, the presidential suite of the Amsterdam Hilton. The press avidly pursued them, assuming that the famous nudists would make love for their cameras. Instead, the pajama-clad newlyweds spoke out about world peace. It was the honeymoon as performance art, interlaced with a protest against the Vietnam War.
Lennon's "The Ballad of John and Yoko" chronicles the week in song: "Drove from Paris to the Amsterdam Hilton / Talking in our bed for a week / The news people said / 'Hey, what you doin' in bed?'/ I said, 'We're only tryin' to get us some peace!'"
For a week, John and Yoko give interviews, ignoring the mockery and hostility to spread their words of peace to a global audience.
London's Daily Mirror noted: "A not inconsiderable talent seems to have gone completely off his rocker." Mid-May, the couple planned to mount a second bed-in, this time in New York. Authorities at the US Embassy in London refused to issue Lennon a visa because of his earlier marijuana arrest. So on May 24, 1969, John and Yoko flew to the Bahamas. John found the island it too hot and humid to stay in bed there for a week. So they abruptly left.
The newlyweds headed north, taking corner suite rooms 1738-40-42 at the stately Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal on May 26, 1969 to stage their second weeklong bed-in for peace.
As Dave Bist, a reporter for the Montreal Gazette, recalled, "All kinds of people came to pay their respects, from comedian-singer Tommy Smothers to L'il Abner cartoonist Al Capp, who kind of betrayed the price of entry by getting into a shouting match with the Peaceful Pair."
On June 1, 1969, the call went out for recording equipment. A guitar was found for Tommy Smothers. Oversize lyrics went up on the walls. And John and Yoko, along with a roomful of people that included Dr. Timothy Leary, Montreal Rabbi Abraham Feinberg, musicians Derek Taylor and Petula Clark, and members of the Canadian Radha Krishna Temple in the chorus, recorded "Give Peace a Chance." The single is credited to "The Plastic Ono Band." Five weeks later, on July 7, the 45 was released in the United States. "Give Peace a Chance" reached no. 14 on Billboard's chart -- and inspired an entire generation to chant a song of peace along with John and Yoko.
Couples could relive John & Yoko's Bed-In for Peace at Montreal's Queen Elizabeth Hotel.
At this writing, the Queen Elizabeth Hotel is closed for renovations through June 2017. Here's what the John & Yoko accommodations in corner suite rooms 1738, 1740 and 1742 looked like before they closed:
Lined in beige moire wallpaper and covered with wine-colored carpeting, the three-room suite included two bedrooms (one with twin beds, another with a comfortable king), three black-marble bathrooms, a dining room with a polished wooden table and eight upholstered wine-and-gold chairs, a living room with green jacquard couch that folds into a sofa, and several gold-rimmed mirrors. Large windows overlook Montreal's Marie the Queen of the World basilica, its statues and dome weathered to a glorious verdigris.
The weekend package that was offered included accommodations in the John Lennon suite, a souvenir photo of the 1969 event, breakfast for two, a bottle of sparkling wine, and a welcome gift.
Commemorating the bed-in, framed pictures of the event by Ted Church hung in the suite's foyer. In the living room a framed color photo of John and Yoko surrounded by eight gold 45s of their Apple-label recording and the song lyrics dominated.
The Future John Lennon & Yoko Ono Suite.
Virtual reality will be introduced to the totally renovated Suite 1742. Couples will have the opportunity to observe the bed-in experience from John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s point of view. Archival content will be broadcast via vintage devices. While sitting on the bed, visitors can "relive" what happened through Interviews, musical and scenes recreated using 360-degree VR technology.
Many of the hotel's bellmen have been with the Queen E for decades, and will share their memories of the groupies and the sweet smell of marijuana that pervaded the hallway that week nearly forty years ago.
And yes, they'll tell you, still every year on December 8, 1980, the day John Lennon was murdered, two dozen roses, half red and half white, are left by the door of the suite.
No one has ever been able to determine who sent them — or seen how they get there.